Welcome home, or welcome to your new home, or welcome to your second home. Whatever the case may be, we hope you will find this place to be a home today and for the rest of your life.
You have come from so many places, near and far and from around this globe we call earth. You bring a suitcase full of experiences that are completely unique to you. We have every expectation that you will bring your uniqueness and your experiences to this new home and add to the beautiful, diverse, learning community that we call Notre Dame College.
We have high hopes for you. We certainly want each of you to be individually successful in your pursuits. But we also want you to develop character and qualities that will make you and this community a better place. How do we do that? How do we teach you to look into your heart and into the hearts of others?
I am not a theologian, but I have studied theology over the course of my life and career. I promise not to make this a lengthy treatise. Two of the great doctors of the Roman Catholic faith are Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Bonaventure. They were contemporaries and they both died in the year 1274.
These men were both faithful and brilliant theologians. Much of what we believe and understand about faith today can be traced back to them and their writings. However, they held very different perspectives on the relationship between humanity and the divine.
A Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, in part, begins his theological exploration with the fall of man in the garden of Eden. On the brink of an eternity in relationship with a loving God, man sinned and disrupted that relationship for all time. It is then through our intellectual pursuits that we seek to restore that union with God though we can never fully do so on this earth. Aquinas says that reason will lead us to see God, seeing is reason. God is “the truth“ to be understood with reason.
For Saint Bonaventure, a Franciscan, God is “the good“ to be loved.
Intellectual pursuits will only take us so far. I had the great good fortune of having a mentor during my graduate studies who introduced me to the writings of Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Herschel. My mentor, Rabbi Howard Hirsch, who served on the faculty of Regis University in Denver was actually from nearby Cleveland Heights, my new home. Heschel often talks about ineffability, the acceptance that there are some things that are beyond our ability to understand through reason.
Saint Bonaventure says this “one can come to a point when reason no longer sees. But in the night of the intellect, love still sees. It sees what remains inaccessible to reason. Love goes beyond reason, sees more, enters more profoundly into the mystery of God.“
Rather than focusing on the fall of man and his sinfulness, Bonaventure looks to God the Creator and his lovefullness. He sees the divine as this great unknowable force of love that called us into creation. We are each imbued with love that seeks to know God.
I fully understand that we are in many different points in our lives in terms of our understanding of faith, our practice of religion or our acceptance that God even exists.
But I hope that we can develop a shared understanding of what it means to love. We need more love in this world.
Last week during our opening campus meeting I spoke with our faculty, staff and coaches about striking the right tone on campus this academic year.
I said that we have become a nation of UNcivil discourse, and I wonder what has happened? We hear about a dramatic increase in unruly behavior on airplanes and the need to duct tape passengers to their seats. We hear about a school board meeting in Tennessee where vaccines and masks were being debated and members of the school board were confronted with threats of violence as they got into their cars to leave. A day or two ago, in Florida, a father attacked someone else’s child in an attempt to rip the mask off their face. I understand that we have been dealing with a great deal of stress as a nation, but does that give us the right to threaten or attack someone?
It seems like we have become a nation of middle schoolers. Do you remember middle school and what it was like? The pettiness and the taunting? Is that what we want to be? It is certainly not what I expect of or hope for the Notre Dame College community.
What has happened to well-informed debate? What has happened to intellectual inquiry? What has happened to the philosophical and scientific search for truth?
I challenge you to follow the Thomistic path to truth in all of your intellectual pursuits. Fully use your mind. Develop great study habits. Be inquisitive.
I also challenge you to love and to be charitable and civil in your dealings with one another and those of us who work here to serve you. If you embrace this approach to living, you will want to do everything in your power to keep yourself and those around you safe and healthy as we continue to deal with COVID 19.
My personal preferences run toward the Bonaventurian world view that, in the beginning, there was love. From that love sprang forth all creation. That’s why, when I look at you, everyone of you, I see a unique and beautiful creation of a loving God. You and all of your beautiful skin tones, tall and short, big and small, gay, straight and unsure, rich and poor, athletes and scholars, those from near and far, outgoing and reserved, 1st generation and multi-generation, rural and urban, all of our uniqueness. I challenge all of you see each other how I see you. Learn how to live your life that way. See one another through the lens of love. If you can successfully learn this and model it in your campus lives, you will be better prepared to serve a world so desperately in need of peace and healing. Aspire to be the full and beautiful creation that God made.
I will end with Bonaventure:
“If now you yearn to know how that happens (that is, the ascent to God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groan of prayer, not the study of the letter; … not light, but the fire that inflames everything and transports to God” (VII, 6).
It is my pleasure to again welcome you, members of the class of 2025 and other new students. Be assured the Mrs. Pressimone and I will hold you all in prayer. I look forward to getting to know you all throughout your time at Notre Dame. And again, welcome home.